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Western media romanticized the Afghan rebels too, even as they threw acid in women’s faces

I’ve been reading through old coverage of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the US armed the religious extremists of the mujahideen against the Soviets. The parallels to the biased coverage of the war in Syria are striking, especially with regard to the romanticization of Islamist rebels. Many of the journalistic shortcomings documented in this New York Times article from 1990 are found in today’s biased reporting on Syria:

From 1980 until late 1986, few American journalists were allowed to visit Kabul or any other Government-held area, which meant that coverage of the war was left primarily to reporters working from the rebel side. Those venturing into the war zones carried back powerful accounts of the rebels’ struggle, and of the destructiveness of the forces they faced. But it was inevitable that over the years, what Americans learned of the conflict came increasingly to reflect the rebel viewpoint; whatever balance access to the other side would have offered was lost.

In addition, much of the Afghan reporting available to Americans came from resident freelancers, many of them relatively inexperienced. The result was that strong bonds often developed between those covering the conflict and the rebels. Many of the reporters became identified with a particular rebel group, usually the one that arranged their journeys ”inside.” Too often, abuses by these groups went unreported, or at least underplayed.

In Peshawar’s American Club, reporters skeptical of an approach that celebrated the rebels’ virtues encountered ostracism. One visitor, Mary Williams Walsh of The Wall Street Journal, had her entry to the club ”suspended” after reporting sardonically on the rebel boosterism she found. Later, after The New York Post ran a series of stories alleging that the CBS Evening News had used faked film footage in some of its reporting on rebel attacks, Ms. Walsh, who had done much of the initial reporting on that story, became a focus for renewed hostility. When in the fall of 1989 word of her departure from the Journal reached the American Club, some of the freelancers involved called for drinks all round.

Such attitudes did not encourage evenhanded reporting. Little attention was given, for example, to the involvement of rebel commanders in the opium traffic, though it had been known in Peshawar for years. Nor, until his murderous attacks on other rebel groups attracted Washington’s condemnation in 1989, did the Peshawar-based reporters – or American diplomats – pay much attention to the sinister nature of Mr. Hekmatyar, the dominant figure among the rebel leaders and the recipient, for years, of the lion’s share of American money and weapons. But stories had long circulated in Kabul and Peshawar of how, as a Kabul student leader during the early 1970’s, he had dispatched followers to throw vials of acid into the faces of women students who refused to wear veils.

Such selective reporting extended to the war itself. When in November 1988 the rebels executed more than 70 Government officers and men after they had surrendered at Torkham, the story was missed by many Peshawar-based American reporters. And there was little coverage in the United States, either, of massacres that occured in areas taken by the rebels, not even when Western human-rights groups offered well-documented accounts, as they did after the rebels engaged in a frenzy of rape and pillage in Kunduz in late 1988.

Making An Example Out Of Independent Journalists Who Cover Syria

On this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, journalist Rania Khalek talks a bit about what she has learned while reporting in Syria. Khalek also addresses the smear attacks on her reputation, which led to her resignation from an editorial position at Electronic Intifada. It has impacted her ability to convince media outlets to publish her work while she is in Lebanon to cover stories in Syria and other nearby countries.

Khalek became an easy target because she does not view the Syrian war as a conflict between good and bad forces. She treats the war with a level of nuance and complexity that deeply upsets Syrian opposition groups, who want the world to romanticize them even as they, too, commit war crimes. When she was listed on the program of a conference, where pro-government perspectives would feature prominently, she was hit with a deluge of questions and innuendothat completely ignored the fact that she was not the only journalist going to the conference. Khalek goes into more detail during this week’s show.

In the latter half of the show, we highlight Dakota Access Pipeline resistance and the police assault on water protectors that occurred about one week ago. (Note: The show was recorded on November 25, hours before the Army Corps of Engineers issued an eviction notice to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. So that unfortunately goes unaddressed.)

Khalek and Kevin Gosztola also slam pundits who think Donald Trump is now acting “presidential,” and they address the progressive dishonesty toward Bernie Sanders just about any time he talks about the concepts of race and class and focuses on material conditions for working and middle class people instead of identity.

The latest episode is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

The following is a partial transcript of Rania Khalek’s remarks on the show about her reporting trip to Syria: Read more

The Aftermath of Trump’s Election: Facing Down Fear, Panic, And Uncertainty

For this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, Rania Khalek returns as co-host to process how to handle all the fear, panic, and uncertainty created by the presidential election of Donald Trump.

We assess what needs to be fought immediately. Kevin Gosztola suggests the Dakota Access pipeline and return of the Keystone XL pipeline will need to face resistance.

“Climate change is probably the most important to organize and push back against. This is going to require people putting their bodies on the line,” Khalek adds. And Gosztola suggests we will need to support not just journalists charged with felonies but all people who are taking action to stop a “moral calamity from taking place,” especially in local communities defending indigenous land from destruction by fossil fuel extraction.

Khalek shares her concern that the backing of Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and the people Trump is surrounding himself means it is time to worry about a Trump administration bombing Iran. “There is going to have to be some resurgence in antiwar activism because that would be another moral calamity.”

Then, domestically, Khalek says we have to support immigrant communities facing the threat of deportation and support organizations that defend them as well. We have to encourage resistance to any efforts to ban Muslims as well.

Lots of people in the United States are looking for ways they can plug in to stop Trump. Media organizations and nonprofit organizations, like the ACLU, have seen an incredible surge in donations. In that vein, Khalek and Gosztola suggest you support their journalism if you want something tangible and immediate to do. Khalek is raising money for a series of articles on the war in Syria. Gosztola runs Shadowproof, and the organization is consistently eager to have new members join. (Anyone who donates $5/month receives a tote bag.)

During the show, the hosts also confront the reality that the last eight years of Democrats, including President Barack Obama’s administration, laid the groundwork for a lot of what Trump plans to do.

It should serve as a warning, Khalek declares. “Even when your team does something bad or your team takes power that nobody should have, just because you trust the person who is currently president and occupying the White House doesn’t mean it is going to stay that way forever. You always have to remember whatever powers they take, the next Donald Trump gets to use.”

The latest episode is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

U.S. and EU sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and crippling aid work, U.N. report reveals

Internal United Nations assessments obtained by The Intercept reveal that U.S. and European sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and crippling aid work during the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II.

The sanctions and war have destabilized every sector of Syria’s economy, transforming a once self-sufficient country into an aid-dependent nation. But aid is hard to come by, with sanctions blocking access to blood safety equipment, medicines, medical devices, food, fuel, water pumps, spare parts for power plants, and more.

In a 40-page internal assessment commissioned to analyze the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, the U.N. describes the U.S. and EU measures as “some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.” Detailing a complex system of “unpredictable and time-consuming” financial restrictions and licensing requirements, the report finds that U.S. sanctions are exceptionally harsh “regarding provision of humanitarian aid.”

Read more from my report at The Intercept

Unauthorized Disclosure: Episode 25—Syria, Chelsea Manning, And More

For this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola discuss the ongoing bloodshed and war in Syria, which is not limited to Aleppo.

Khalek and Gosztola also talk about the latest unsettling development with Chelsea Manning, who the U.S. Army punished with two weeks in solitary confinement.

Later in the episode, Kevin reads a piece of election-themed satire he wrote, which quite a few people mistakenly thought was a serious column. (No guest this week.)

The 25th episode of the third season is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

Florida mosque arsonist shared extreme pro-Israel propaganda

The man accused of setting fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in Florida a week ago is an ardent supporter of Israel who labeled all forms of Islam as “radical.”

Joseph Michael Schreiber, a 32-year-old messianic Jew, was arrested at his home in St. Lucie, Florida, on Wednesday and charged with arson and a hate crime. Police say he confessed after his arrest.

His attack is part of a spate of anti-Muslim hate crimes since the start of the current US election season.

The mosque he set ablaze has been regularly attended by the father of Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen and the crime was committed on 11 September, which marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The attack was also the night before the Islamic center was due to hold a community celebration for Eid al-Adha.

Extensive damage

An affidavit by the St. Lucie County Police Department describes Schreiber as “a habitual felony offender,” meaning that if convicted he could face up to life in prison due to Florida’s mandatory sentencing laws.

The affidavit also notes that Schreiber’s Facebook page was littered with “anti-Islamic postings,” “posts related to pro-Israel propaganda” and “negative propaganda related to Muslims.”

Police estimate damage to the Islamic center in excess of $100,000. As of Friday, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce reportedit had received more than $30,000 in donations from well-wishers to help it repair the extensive damage.

A hate crime enhancement was added to the charges after police discovered the social media posts.

Media outlets were quick to publicize Schreiber’s anti-Muslim postings, but few mentioned his promotion of pro-Israel propaganda or his admiration for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, two great champions of the anti-Muslim far right.

According to Schreiber’s Facebook page, he is also a fan of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, IDF Women, the Israeli American Council of Florida and the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.

Islamophobia network

In a 12 July Facebook post, Schreiber wrote, “ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL , and should be considered TERRORIST AND CRIMANALS [sic].”

With such rhetoric, Schreiber was echoing the anti-Muslim messages emanating from organizations and high-profile individuals who have been spewing anti-Muslim hatred for years.

Many of them are key players in what the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, calls the Islamophobia Network. Read more

Ceasefire Deal: US Reluctant To Force Syrian Rebel Groups To Cut Ties With Al Qaeda

A new ceasefire agreement in Syria was recently negotiated between the United States and Russia, but one significant issue with the deal is that it may lack any meaningful mechanism to force rebel groups supported by the U.S. to end coordination or cooperation with al Qaeda.

Gareth Porter, an independent investigative journalist, joins Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast to talk about his piece, “Al Qaeda’s Ties to U.S.-Backed Rebels in Syria.” He highlights the positive aspects of a ceasefire deal for Syria while calling attention to a deeply problematic aspect of the ceasefire—the lack of incentives for the U.S. to make certain groups it supports cut their ties with al Qaeda.

In the latter part of the show, Khalek and Gosztola discuss the massive $3.8 billion U.S. aid package to Israel, the closing of Camp 5 at Guantanamo Bay, and Oliver Stone’s new film, “Snowden.”

The episode is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

Below is an edited transcript of part of the interview with Gareth Porter.

Read more

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